Turks need to understand Europe better

Turks need to understand Europe better

Having visited a number of key European capitals over the past few months, during which I met government officials, politicians, opinion framers and ordinary people of all kinds, the conclusion I have drawn is that Turks need to understand better what is happening in Europe. One need not be a genius to realize that Turkey’s EU membership prospects are not the best when looked at from today’s perspective, of course. But there is more to the matter than meets the eye.

Quite a number of people I talked to, whether they belong to the ultra-right, moderate right or the left, were convinced that a predominantly Muslim Turkey would never become an EU member and believed that the sooner this is acknowledged the better – for both sides.

There were also those who argued that “full membership is not for Turkey because it will entail a loss of sovereignty which is not something easy to swallow for Turks.” When one delved a little deeper, however, it became clear that those who are against Turkey’s membership and are using such arguments, were not fans of the EU as it is today either.

It was interesting to hear these people expressing their discomfort over the loss of sovereignty that EU membership has entailed for their country and for which they feel they are paying the price for now with the eurozone crisis. Put briefly, I found the mood in the streets and corridors of Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Berlin equally ugly when it comes to the EU itself.

In addition to this, we now have French President Nicolas Sarkozy confessing it was a mistake to admit Greece into the eurozone. And quite a few people I talked to in Western Europe believe it was also a mistake to have admitted Romania and Bulgaria into the EU before they properly fulfilled the membership criteria.

Then there are those EU officials and politicians who increasingly admit in private that it was wrong to admit Cyprus as a member before the Cyprus problem was solved, not because they have a personal affection for Turkey, but because they say this landed the union with an intractable international problem, which they argue is a first in the EU’s history.

One can only surmise from all of these “confessions,” with more undoubtedly to come, that key aspects of the EU project were not properly thought through before being implemented.

Put another way, Europe will now have to do the thinking it should have done a decade or more ago about the union’s direction and its ultimate “raison d’etre.”

Many European experts are arguing today that it will take at least five years, if not longer, to clean up the economic mess in the EU. They are suggesting that a new kind of union will inevitably have to emerge out of all this. Therefore, whatever direction the debate about Turkey may take in the future, it is clear that Europeans who still believe that the future of the EU is crystal clear are deluding themselves.

This is why the best thing for Turks at this stage is to worry less about Turkey’s membership prospects (if indeed there are any left) and spend more time following the acrimonious debates raging in Europe. These debates are much more “educational” and “eye-opening” than any speculation about Turkey’s place in an EU that has yet to determine its own future properly.